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Archive for May, 2021

Paul McLerran’s new novel Gawain: A Novel of Arthurian Legend is a retelling of Sir Gawain’s life in one volume that sheds new light on the character, and especially his friendship with Sir Lancelot. McLerran obviously has done his homework in researching the character of Sir Gawain, and in his end notes, he discusses his sources for various parts of the novel. While largely following traditional Arthurian sources, he also makes some surprising and enjoyable changes.

Paul McLerran’s Gawain is a faithful and fun retelling about one of King Arthur’s greatest knights

The novel opens with Gawain in his youth. His father Lot was killed by King Arthur when he rebelled against him, leaving Gawain and his brothers in the care of his mother Morgause. McLerran wisely has Gaheris dead in childhood since he’s always been a rather pointless character. The other brothers, Gareth, Agravain, and Mordred, however, are all here. Morgause decides to send Gawain, Gareth, and Agravain to Camelot to a tournament early in the novel. Her purpose is to have her sons infiltrate Camelot and eventually avenge their father, but Gawain shows such skill and promise that Arthur quickly notices him and convinces him to stay at Camelot and become a Knight of the Round Table.

From there, Gawain’s story follows the traditional pattern. He quickly befriends Lancelot, and we are treated to several familiar stories, including Guinevere’s abduction by Meliagaunt and Lancelot’s rescuing of her, which Gawain doesn’t partake in, but it makes him observant of Lancelot and the queen’s relationship going forward. Other more typically Gawain-focused stories include twists on the story of Dame Ragnell, here named Raquel, and Gawain’s encounter with the Green Knight.

Ultimately, the fall of Camelot begins, and Gawain ends up waging war with King Arthur against Lancelot, due to his anger over Gareth’s death at Lancelot’s hand.

None of these stories are really surprising to fans of Arthurian legend, but they are enjoyable to read for the twists McLerran gives them. I won’t give them away and spoil the fun of reading them for yourself.

However, one departure from tradition that surprised me but also gave some new life to the legend was how Lancelot is treated as rather coarse and as a ladies’ man. In more traditional sources, Lancelot is virtuous and only just fails to achieve the Holy Grail because of his love for Guinevere, which he is usually depicted as being tormented over. Here, however, he is a bit of a man whore. Gawain also is far more virtuous, or at least virginal, than in some more medieval versions where he tends to be the one more likely to be a ladies’ man. Regardless, they become friends and nicely balance each other out in the novel.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Holy Grail stories within the legend, but I was surprised that McLerran leaves them out for the most part. The Holy Grail figures in the novel, but McLerran does not have the knights go questing for it. It has always been rather an interruption to the main tales in my opinion, but it also allows for Lancelot to be more virtuous and sympathetic, which is perhaps a reason to shy away from it in this novel. Still, I felt like a bit of the story was missing here, though it may have been too much of a distraction.

One additional clever change I liked is that McLerran makes Mordred a bit more conniving than in other versions. While Mordred has always taken advantage of the situation of Arthur’s departure, here it is clear he purposely allows Lancelot to escape from being caught with Guinevere. He does this so Arthur will go to wage war against Lancelot, thus leaving Albion and making his throne more vulnerable.

While Camelot does fall, the end of the novel is rather a surprising departure I did not see coming that added a bit of a happier ending to the story that I think readers will find satisfying.

Finally, I have to mention that I liked that McLerran stated that his depiction of Gawain as a general waiting to battle Lancelot, which starts each section of the novel, is a tribute to the frame of the play/film of Camelot that begins with Arthur as a general on the eve of battle. Anyone who wants to pay tribute to Camelot is all right in my book since it’s my all-time favorite movie.

All in all, Gawain: A Novel of Arthurian Legend is both a revealing and entertaining new interpretation of the legend and particularly the character of Gawain.

For more information about Paul McLerran and Gawain: A Novel of Arthurian Legend, visit https://paulmclerran.com/. When there, be sure to check out his blog posts where McLerran discusses more about why he wrote the novel and how he fell in love with Arthurian legend.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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